SAN ANTONIO – (Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Thursday, April 8. For the latest reporting on this story from KSAT.com, click here.)
Gov. Greg Abbott called on the federal government to close a facility housing migrant children at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio after complaints of abuse and understaffing were received Wednesday morning.
Abbott said the complaints are “credible” and were made to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He declined to provide details about the tipster, but said it was from at least one or more people who have been inside the facility.
The allegations include sexual assault, understaffing, not being fed enough food and COVID-positive children not being isolated from others.
The governor said Texas Rangers would immediately begin investigating the cases. It is unclear how many children were allegedly abused.
“This facility is a health and safety nightmare,” Abbott said. “The Biden Administration should immediately shut down this facility.”
“The Biden administration opened the borders and failed to plan for the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border, and now we are faced with our worst fears—allegations of child abuse and neglect,” Abbott said. “I am calling on the Biden administration to close this facility, and I am directing the DPS and the Texas Rangers to immediately begin investigating these allegations. President Biden’s disastrous decisions caused this crisis, and his administration must act now to protect these children, secure the border, and end this crisis.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it could not comment on specific cases but “has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior.”
In a statement, a DFPS spokeswoman confirmed that the agency received the allegations.
“The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) today received three separate reports alleging abuse and neglect occurring at the Freeman Coliseum, which is currently housing unaccompanied minors. Because this facility is not licensed by the State, we do not have the jurisdiction to investigate, but the information we received has been shared with DPS,” the statement said.
Bexar County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rebecca Clay-Flores, who has visited the facility often, said that the allegations are political in nature and amount to “fake news.”
“They are fed three meals a day plus two snacks,” she said. “The conditions are sanitary and good.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg released a statement saying, “These allegations about the federal operation are disturbing if true, and a thorough investigation is warranted.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who has toured four similar migrant facilities in Texas, called for a federal investigation into the matter.
“Unaccompanied children that arrive at our border have already endured dangerous conditions at home and a treacherous journey to get here,” Cornyn said in a statment. “The fact that any child would experience abuse in the care of the U.S. government is despicable. The HHS Inspector General must fully investigate these allegations and the treatment of children at this facility.”
The news conference happened outside of the Freeman Coliseum, where 1,370 boys ages 13-17 are being housed as a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency Intake Site.
The Expo Center, located next to the AT&T Center, where the San Antonio Spurs play, has an internal potential capacity of 2,100 beds and an external capacity of 300 medical beds.
Upon arrival, the children receive medical screenings and any follow-up care needed for injuries or illnesses they had when they arrived, officials have previously said.
Following Abbott’s announcement, Ike Hajinazrian, a White House regional spokesperson, released the following statement following the allegations:
“The Biden Administration takes the safety and well-being of children in its care very seriously. Currently, we see no basis for Governor Abbott’s call to shut down the San Antonio Freeman Coliseum as an intake site, however, his claims will be looked into and investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Abbott has been very critical of the Biden Administration’s handling of the influx of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, claiming that the administration is refusing to secure the border, which he said has led to a sharp rise in illegal border crossings. See the data here.